READING: Luke 15:1-3,11-32
SERMON : "The Third Son"
Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
The following is a more or less complete liturgy and sermon
for the upcoming Sunday. Hymn numbers, designated as VU are
found in the United Church of Canada Hymnal "Voices United".
SFPG is "Songs For A Gospel People", also available from the UCC.
The parable of the prodigal son is one of the most loved of all
I suspect this is so because it is so easy for us to see
ourselves in it.
We can identify with one or more of the characters.
A professor of theology told me once that most people identify
with the prodigal son,
we see ourselves as people who have come to our senses,
as people, who, while we wander away from home every now and then
have, in the last analysis, got it together,
as people who are at last on the right track.
John Newton - who wrote the hymn Amazing Grace back in 1779
certainly identified with the younger son - the son who wasted
his inheritance -in this way.
As a young man he left home and went to sea - and there lived
wildly and free.
Like many people who abandon God, he was highly critical of
the Christian faith, and spent much time tearing down the
faith of the people he met as he went from place to place.
It was only in later years that he realized that he had wasted
his young life, and indeed not only wasted it - but in all that
time he had been offensive to God and to all God-fearing people,
and like the young prodigal, he repented and sought, in humility
and in submissiveness to serve God for the rest of his days.
His resulting experience of God's forgiveness, of God's grace, is
not only described well in the emotion packed words of the song
it is also to be found in his epitaph, an epitaph he himself
wrote shortly before his death in 1807
He describes himself and his experience of God this way:
"John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and libertine, was
by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus
Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to
preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy."
Indeed many people have had Newton's experience of the love of
they have discovered no matter how far they have fallen,
no matter what they have done, and
no matter how intensely they have turned away from and
that God remains faithful to them, and indeed longs for them to
They have discovered that God through Christ, indeed preserves,
restores and completely pardons - and like Newton they rejoice in
it and submit their lives thereafter to Him.
Blessed indeed are those who feel this way,
those who feel that God has indeed longed for them like a
father who has lost his son,
and that God has indeed forgiven them much, and
restored them completely to his side.
Other people identify with the Father in the story.
Like that father, they may have had, or still have,
a son or a daughter who has turned away from them
or who has embarked on a life course
that leads nowhere.
Hearing the story of the prodigal son makes them long for a
similar reunion in their lives - or it may remind them of a
moment of reconciliation when someone who had left them returned
and sought to set things straight.
Still other people identify with the older son in the parable,
and it is about the older son that I want to preach today, about
him, and about the person I call the third son - who of course is
Jesus - the one who tells the tale.
I've got to tell this straight up -
the people I have most problem with in my work as a preacher
of the gospel are the ones who identify with the older son.
I am always surprised by this fact - because those who identify
with the older son are generally people who have, like the older
son in the story, spent their whole lives striving to serve the
they are people who attempt to be good, and who spend a lot
of time and effort in doing good,
yet - all in all - they are insufferable bores and
totally joyless creatures, creatures who are critical,
unloving, and uncaring,
Listen to the older son for a minute
The son who never left home
Listen to how he talks to the father about his brother,
the brother who was lost, but now is found,
who was blind, but now can see...
"Look", he says to his father "all these years I have
worked for you like a slave, and I have never disobeyed
your orders. What have given me? Not even a goat for
me to have a feast with my friends. But this son of
yours wasted all your property on prostitutes, and when
he comes back home, you kill the prize calf for him!"
There is something missing in this good man is there not?
Something that makes a person want to grieve over him,
Something that makes a person want to shake him until he comes to
He is so frustrating... so close minded... and so without joy,
that he resents the joy of his Father over the rebirth of his
and resents the love that this brother is shown,
and, as it turns out, he even he resents the work that
he does for the Father - regarding it as unrewarded
slavery, rather than as his contribution to an
estate,indeed a kingdom, that is already his.
Where my friends is the sense that this son should have,
the sense of rejoicing and celebration,
the sense of joy and happiness?
Why does the older brother regard himself as a slave rather than
- Why has he not asked his father for a party with his
- Why has he not sung and danced in the aisles long before
his brother returned
- Why is he so without cheer?
- Why is he so serious, so angry?
A wiseperson once said - "God hides things by putting them before
The party we want from our father is here and now, my friends.
WE are a part of God's family, we live at home, and all that God
has made is ours, and all his promises are for us.
Listen to song of the bird, the wind in the trees, the ocean's
roar. Look at tree, a falling leaf, a flower as if for the first
time. Is there not something to celebrate in this?
Or are you a person who looks at the rose bush and only notices
the thorns? the person who looks at the day and sees only the
work in it, and not the times of rest, of fellowship, of eating
The oldest son complained the father, saying that "his son" was
getting things he did not deserve and that he himself was not
getting all that he deserved...
Think about it for a minute Wouldn't you say it is true that
"People who complain that they do not get all they deserve should
Wouldn't you say that they should thank God - as did Newton
with the hymn Amazing Grace?
God does not give us all that we deserve -- praise his name!!!
My friends - the secret of rejoicing is to consider what we have
deserved, and what God has given to us instead...
It is to consider the miracle of the grace that comes to us
through Jesus, and to thank God for it rather than to resent that
grace being shown to others.
The secret is to understand the heart of the father rejoices over
that which is right and celebrates every time we do that which we
ought to do --
The father said --
my son, you are always here with me, and everything I
have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be happy,
because your brother was dead, and now is alive, he was
lost , but now has been found."
Praise God for this and for all that he has done -
and praise God too for all that he has not done
- for he has not judged you. AMEN
copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1998 - 2006
please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.